The allometry of non-employment. What can compositional data analysis tell us about labour market performance across the UK's regions?

Anyadike Danes, Michael
The low levels of unemployment recorded in the UK in recent years are widely cited as evidence of the country’s improved economic performance, and the apparent convergence of unemployment rates across the country’s regions used to suggest that the longstanding divide in living standards between the relatively prosperous ‘south’ and the more depressed ‘north’ has been substantially narrowed. Dissenters from these conclusions have drawn attention to the greatly increased extent of non-employment (around a quarter of the UK’s working age population are not in employment) and the marked regional dimension in its distribution across the country. Amongst these dissenters it is generally agreed that non-employment is concentrated amongst older males previously employed in the now very much smaller ‘heavy’ industries (e.g. coal, steel, shipbuilding). This paper uses the tools of compositiona l data analysis to provide a much richer picture of non-employment and one which challenges the conventional analysis wisdom about UK labour market performance as well as the dissenters view of the nature of the problem. It is shown that, associated with the striking ‘north/south’ divide in nonemployment rates, there is a statistically significant relationship between the size of the non-employment rate and the composition of non-employment. Specifically, it is shown that the share of unemployment in non-employment is negatively correlated with the overall non-employment rate: in regions where the non-employment rate is high the share of unemployment is relatively low. So the unemployment rate is not a very reliable indicator of regional disparities in labour market performance. Even more importantly from a policy viewpoint, a significant positive relationship is found between the size of the non-employment rate and the share of those not employed through reason of sickness or disability and it seems (contrary to the dissenters) that this connection is just as strong for women as it is for men ​
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